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STL Roundtable: Defining success for Virginia Football

There are so many ways to slice this; what’s yours?

NCAA Football: Belk Bowl-South Carolina vs Virginia Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The hype machine is firing on all cylinders for Virginia Cavaliers football as we are less than two weeks from opening kickoff. The media—and I don’t even mean just us—are all in on Virginia, with many predicting the Hoos to win the Coastal for the first time ever, and some others taking even bolder stances, predicting the Hoos to win the ACC or even make the Orange Bowl.

So expectations are as high as they’ve ever been in Charlottesville. Alumni like former starting quarterback Kurt Benkert say that they feel all of this excitement even from afar. Given all this, the STL staff asked ourselves, how would you define a “successful season” this year? How would you define a disappointing one?

Danny Neckel: I look at a successful season as taking a step forward compared to last season. There are three goals Virginia can look at to expand on last season: improve their 7-5 (4-4 ACC) record, win the ACC Coastal division, and beat Virginia Tech. Do all three and it is a fantastic season. Accomplish none and it is a disappointment. Do one of three and it is still a successful season since it would better than last year. Now which of those three is most important depends on the fan.

Sayer Paige: Given how relatively friendly the schedule is this fall, I think 9 wins—one better than the total in 2018—has to be the minimum number for the season to be called a success.

For this to happen, UVA probably needs to capture at least three of the four contests against Pittsburgh, Florida State, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech—matchups all listed between 49-55% in terms of win probability based on the S&P+. Otherwise, they’d have to win at least two and repeat as bowl winners. Neither of these scenarios are all too unlikely.

On this issue of beating Tech, I’ve never been a big proponent of the notion that “the rest of your season doesn’t matter if you beat your rival,” so any way the team picks up 9 Ws is fine by me.

Paul Wiley: Oh man, Sayer, hard disagree here. The only way the season can be considered a success is if it includes a win over VPISU. Every other realistic goal has been achieved: consecutive bowl seasons, bowl win, .500 record in ACC play. The MASSIVE glaring omission from the accomplishments list is beating VaTech. I wouldn’t say that beating VaTech is sufficient on its own—a 1-11 season would still be a disappointment—but it is a necessary pre-condition to me considering any season a success at this point.

This gets put to the test in a scenario where UVA goes 7-1 in ACC play to win the Coastal but the loss is against VaTech. Winning the division for the first time would be a major achievement. But if it happens without beating the Hokies, I don’t think one season with a division title is paradigm-shifting; if anything it risks invoking oddity nostalgia, like “Hey remember that time Kansas won the Orange Bowl with a quarterback from the lollipop guild and the Kool-Aid Man as their head coach?” Especially when that division title just opens the door to a full-on vaporizing by Clemson on national TV. Know what is paradigm-shifting, especially for UVA’s standing among in-state recruits? Beating VaTech, and starting to do so regularly.

We’re at the point of the Mendenhall tenure where things start to get baked in: the position in which UVA finds itself after four years of this coaching regime is probably about where UVA will stay over the long haul (with some adjustment up or down each year based on a combination of luck and timing). If that position includes beating VPISU, then the Hoos are in good shape to maintain a strong presence in UVA’s natural recruiting footprint and challenge for division titles with some regularity.

My TL;DR: a successful season requires sweeping the in-state opponents this year, winning a bowl game, and finishing top-three in the Coastal. A disappointing season would be EITHER losing to VPISU again, or beating the Hokies but otherwise taking steps backward compared to last year’s results.

Tiki: Generally speaking, I consider the product on the field more important than the results. For example, Virginia was 1-3 in games decided by one score. Those types of games often turn on a lucky bounce or a bad call or whatever. Record in close games is not repeatable. Virginia’s season is much different if they win another of those games (especially if it’s VT). So by that measure, a successful season is simply improvement on the field. Last year, the play was better, but still lacked consistency. This was especially true on the lines. This year, the team will face Pitt, FSU and Notre Dame early in the season. Those teams have historically had strong line on both sides of the ball. If Virginia continues to struggle in that area, the season won’t be successful even if they win 8 or 9 games and beat Tech.

That said, I realize wins and losses drive fan support. And fan support will drive long term success (i.e., money, recruiting, etc). So by that measure, beating Tech might be the most important thing. Is a 6-6 regular season with a win over Tech a success? What about another 8-5 season with another loss to Tech? I think the fan base is not going to get excited by either of those seasons, which would make it not a success.

Danny: I think there is a big difference between personal opinion and predicting what the fanbase wants though. Looking at twitter polls I have done, more than half of the fanbase would rather UVA go 1-11 if the win is vs VT than make a bowl game but lose to VT. A quarter of the fanbase would even prefer 1-11 (beat VT) to 11-1 (lose to VT).

Pierce: I think the season will be successful as long as everyone has fun.

And the only way to have fun is by beating VaTech.

I largely agree with Paul’s point of view—it’s too important of a step to avoid having it as the line for where we want the program to be. Sure, a season with wins over most ACC foes and a big time upset like ND would be strong work - and making the ACCCG would be literally something this team as never accomplished, but doing such things while losing to VaTech would be a tough pill to swallow. That all said...I think UVa’s chances to beat the Hokies are much stronger than they are to win the Coastal.

Caroline Darney: I think the realistic answer is that winning the Coastal should be considered a huge success. Winning 8-10 games should be considered a huge success. That’s real. Virginia has obviously struggled for so long, seeing things finally trend in the right direction with the winning season, back-to-back bowl seasons, and a bowl win...that’s huge. But I have to also agree with A LOT of what Paul said. I wouldn’t be happier with a 1-11 season with the win being over VT than if Virginia wins 9 games and goes to the ACC Championship Game, but gosh darn it, it’s time. Just beat ‘em. I need it.

Brian Leung: I very much would like for this team to beat Virginia Tech. It’s the one thing we talk about every single year at this point—we the fan base, we the team, we the people. But I don’t think that game defines success for me. I view winning the Coastal Division to be a successful season. I view a nine-win season a successful season. And while I very much want this team to beat Tech, I don’t think the season’s success hinges on that.

As far as Danny’s Twitter poll goes, I don’t buy into that even a little bit and find it a nonstarter if you’re really trying to say that more than half of UVA fans would prefer a 1-win season than winning a bowl game.

For me, a 5-7 season with a win over the Hokies is a disappointment. Yeah I’m happy with that win, but I’m disappointed with the season (especially, as Sayer pointed out, given the strength of schedule). An 8-4 regular season record with a win over the Hokies? Okay yeah, I’ll consider that a success. An 8-4 regular season record with a loss to the Hokies? I’m not sure where I land on that. I wouldn’t call it a disappointing season but am not sure I’d call it a successful one either. A 9-3 regular season record with a loss to the Hokies? I’ll take it as successful.

What about you? What do you think is successful?